The following are opening remarks I made at a Preservation Month 2014 panel discussion held at the Heights Main Library 5/7/2014 – one year ago today. I am President of the Cleveland Heights Historical Society and on the Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission, but obviously these opinions don’t necessarily reflect those of the members of these two bodies. ….Ken Goldberg
Greater Cleveland is a metropolitan area where for decades there was less interest in historical architectural preservation than in many other regions. By the time the movement picked up in Cuyahoga County, a great deal of our better 19th century structures were already gone, and those interested in restoring or maintaining an older building have gravitated to early 20th century structures. As such, Cleveland Heights, for several decades, has been integral to the preservation movement in Cuyahoga County.
What makes Cleveland Heights distinctive? It doesn’t need trite monikers like “City of Homes,” “Tree City,” or “The Friendly City.” Its physical attributes are not terribly unusual. Every community in Cuyahoga County can boast some attractive areas. But Cleveland Heights is a community with a great deal of architectural distinction – particularly regarding residential and ecclesiastic – with a large assortment of terrific examples of residential architecture ranging from the turn of the 20th century to past World War Two. Of suburbs In Cuyahoga County, only Lakewood’s built environment, averaging approximately a decade older, can possibly compete in architectural variety and quality.
Our fabulous neighbor, Shaker Heights, was the largest planned community in the United States in its earlier years. As picturesque and extraordinary as much of its residential architecture may be, its extreme case of design restrictions made it almost impossible for the construction of many styles in the forefront of American residential architecture to even to be contemplated in the Van Sweringen-controlled neighborhoods. Although its design restrictions became amazingly – though temporarily – liberal in the 1960s, Shaker Heights is missing worthy examples of Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Arts and Crafts or Craftsman, Bungalows, Prairie School, Mediterranean, Spanish, Pueblo, Front porch Foursquares, Moderne, Art Deco, and International Style– all of which we have great examples in Cleveland Heights. Shaker Heights also lacks grand apartment districts dating from before 1930, as well as glorious houses of worship that are not Georgian Revival, with the exception of First Baptist.
Contemporary trends have been accepted in Cleveland Heights neighborhoods since the 1910s. Clearly one reason is that Cleveland Heights has the distinction of adjoining University Circle, and some of Cleveland heights’ neighborhoods enjoy a true college town environment. Strong connections with the Cleveland Institute of Art, CWRU’s former College of Architecture, and the region’s academic community in general have given Cleveland Heights a definite flavor – extremely evident in some of its neighborhoods and commercial districts. This has long been a community that has kept up with residential architectural trends.
With the Great Recession, there has been an epidemic of houses lost all over Greater Cleveland. However, Cleveland Heights, like Cleveland and many older suburbs, has already lost a significant segment of its 20th-century architecture – including about ten very noteworthy mansions. An extensive review of lost Cleveland Heights thru 1997 appears as a “Featured story” on our Cleveland Heights Historical Society website (chhistory.org). Beyond this, many residential styles are being compromised with the mass prevalence of replacement windows and exterior doors totally disregarding the style of the house; shutters removed or shoddy versions indiscriminately and improperly added; and installation of all the types of synthetic sidings and vinyl or even plastic fencing and railings currently available.
Fortunately Cleveland Heights has an active Landmark Commission and a very knowledgeable preservationist, Kara O’donnell, and there are very useful Heritage and H.E.L.P Loans available out there. The Cleveland Restoration Society and several other organizations are more than willing to work with property owners to keep up and improve their buildings in appropriate fashion. But without Certified Local Government (or, CLG) designation for Cleveland Heights, our efforts are indeed limited.
Meanwhile, where does Cleveland Heights fit into a regional perspective? New residential or commercial development in Cleveland Heights may or may not enhance downtown Cleveland, but it surely will reduce the number of residents, businesses, or offices that would otherwise be located further out and contribute to our sprawl issues. In many metropolitan areas the types of neighborhoods that comprise Cleveland Heights would indeed be located in the center city. Mergers of services between municipalities potentially increase financial efficiency and responsibility, and a complete merger of cities, such as Cleveland Heights with University Heights, is a concept which should be thoroughly explored for mutual benefit.
Perhaps this community might find means to take further advantage of Cleveland Heights’ strategic location and determine how to get public transportation between the Heights and downtown Cleveland at least to the level it was for many decades. What can be done to involve the public when demolition is threatened, such that the chance of a fine building’s being saved and renovated might be greater? In this age of ever new synthetic materials being used in construction, how do we encourage maintaining with integrity a housing stock that will be composed primarily of century homes by 2030?